Since its humble beginnings in 2015, Grover Theatre Company has aimed to create and nurture a warm and supportive environment for any cast, crew or committee member who walks through their doors to join the Grover family. Presenting an array of shows over the last few years, from smaller niche pieces such as Cosi and Dinkum Assorted, right through to mainstream hits such as Romeo And Juliet and Spring Awakening, the team at GTC want to keep challenging the expression of the performance artform, all while taking audiences along with them. It’s in this vision that Grover are gearing up to present their next production, RENT.

A few days out from bump-in, Musical Director Ben Heels, Choreographer Lizzie Pereira and cast member Sos Gill (playing Maureen) can’t wait to share GTC’s vision of RENT with audiences. Heels, Pereira and Gill all have a special connection with RENT, making their involvement very personal and fulfilling. “This is my seventh time working on RENT in some capacity, so you could say I’m obsessed with all things RENT!” Heels exclaims with a laugh. Pereira’s take is slightly different, as there’s very much an emotional chord with her being part of this production. “RENT holds a dear place in my heart. At sixteen it was a turning point for me that theatre could really touch people, not just entertain” she says. “Having a friend pass away that year, our drama teacher used Seasons Of Love for our end of year performance, and it really spoke to me and helped me heal in a way that any conventional methods couldn’t” Pereira continues. Gill also has a personal chord with RENT, with the show being a personal guide to her formative years. “It’s a special show to me. It guided me to the communities that represent me; LGBTIQ+ folk, artists and outcasts. Those are my people. Always have been” Gill says.

Sos Gill as Maureen

Musically, Heels has found working on GTC’s RENT an absolute dream. “Jonathan’s score is one of the best in my opinion” he says. “It really is hard for me to pick a favourite song, but if I had to choose a moment it would be in “Support Group” when the character of Gordon sings about his struggle. I don’t know why but that small part of the song has always resonated with me.” In regards to the cast, Heels speaks very highly of the work they’re doing. “The cast are doing such an amazing job. They’re bringing the score to life, and their passion and dedication for the music allows them to tell the story of the show and not just sing the pretty songs.” Pereira shares similar sentiments when it comes to the choreography. “I’ve loved this show for over a decade, and each interpretation I’ve seen I’ve always found a new and profound way to be moved” she says. “I’ve been very excited to present my version of the show and wanted to surprise and show the audiences who may not know the story how it can hold such a special place in all of our hearts” she continues with enthusiasm. “When it comes to the choreography, myself and my assistant Ash went over the numbers a lot, tweaking as we went and being sure to utilize the featured ensemble, and highlight not only the mains, but everyone in their own special way.”

Heels and Pereira show a clear sense of pride when speaking about their work as part of GTC’s RENT. Gill shares the same emotional pride when talking about her portrayal of Maureen. “Playing Maureen is so damn empowering. She’s brash, bold and overconfident, and stepping into her shoes is so amazing” Gill says. “For me, her headspace is “all the world’s a stage”, so during rehearsal the stage is my whole world, and I own it” she continues with confidence and strength. Continuing about her interpretation of the character, Gill shares how she’s put her stamp on the character, as her version of Maureen is a new representation that hasn’t been seen enough for the character. “I think what differs in my interpretation of Maureen is that I’m so obviously queer about it. As a bisexual woman I’m coming to the role considering how I can be not just a sexy woman, but a sexy queer woman: very, very different things.”

The process for Heels, Pereira and Gill has been not only a fun one, but a safe and comfortable one for all involved, which is exactly the environment Grover have aimed to cultivate. Heels states “The cast have all bonded and become such a tight knit family throughout the rehearsal process. There is no weak link, and they are so incredibly encouraging and supportive of each other. They have all been so welcoming of the production teams’ vision and all brought their own thoughts and ideas to the table that has really made this a collaborative piece of theatre.” Pereira seconds that and speaks about a unique process that has allowed the cast to feel uplifted throughout rehearsals. “We begin rehearsals with a pulse check and see how everyone’s moods are and we all take a conscious moment to either lift other cast members or feel the love and support of each other. They are as thick as thieves these days, and sometimes we need to wrangle the camaraderie, but it is with affection. The love of the show that they portray is so profound, and I have been truly honoured to spend this rehearsal season with them” she says with adoration. Gill says that this love and affection in being such a close group will translate to audiences. “We hang out after rehearsals a lot, we celebrate birthdays… we’ve supported each other through job changes, uni pressures, personal problems… everyone’s really understanding and considerate. We show our vulnerabilities to each other off stage and there’s so much support, and so on stage has become a kind of safe space for everyone. There’s a lot of love in the team, and I think it will translate to the stage” Gill shares.

Stewart Hawkey as Roger and Laura Harris-Rilen as Mimi

Heels, Pereira and Gill can’t wait for audiences to feel the emotion and power of GTC’s RENT. “Audiences can expect to be taken on truly beautiful and emotional rollercoaster of a journey” Heels enthuses. Pereira continues Heels’ sentiment with “It is truly a touching piece of work.” Gill closes with “I think audiences can expect to see love. Love as a driving force, anger born from love, sadness from love, fear from love, happiness from love. I think Grover’s RENT provides them all.”

Grover Theatre Company’s RENT is running for 8 performances at the Knox Community Arts Centre from Friday October 11th – Saturday October 19th
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PHOTO CREDIT: James Oorloff Photography